The State Department was told by the White House to play down the surprise freeze of $141 million worth of military aid to the Ukraine that had already been approved by Congress, The New York Times reports. The National Security Council reportedly told American diplomats that the freeze was part of a normal review by the White House—even though Ukraine had already been promised the financial support and was unaware of the freeze. “Keep moving, people, nothing to see here,” Brad Freden, the State Department’s acting deputy assistant secretary of Europe and Eurasia, wrote in an email obtained by the Times. “In terms of public messaging, N.S.C. is deliberately treating both the hold and its lifting as administrative matters,” Freden wrote. “My advice is to keep your public messaging low-key as well.”
Some officials were not pleased with the holding pattern. William Taylor, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, wrote in a text message that it was “crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” Gordon Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, wrote in response: “The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind.” Sondland then suggested the conversation continue over the phone. House Democrats requested interviews and documents from Sondland as part of the impeachment inquiry, but President Trump blocked him from testifying. The House said it will subpoena Sondland to testify, considering him a key witness to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.